The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, by Mark Haddon

Shelf Indulgence

I recently spent a few pleasant evenings listening to the Radio 4 adaptation of The Maid, by Nita Prose, and it sent me looking for this Shelf Indulgence review of a crime novel published twenty years ago, which also features a central protagonist with Asperger’s. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is a murder mystery like no other. The detective and narrator is Christopher Boone. Christopher is fifteen and has Asperger’s Syndrome; he knows a very great deal about maths and very little about human beings.

The extraordinary power of Haddon’s writing is his ability to place the reader in the mind of Christopher. So, when the fifteen-year-old goes on a train journey, we experience the proximity of people as he does: as threatening, oppressive – even overwhelming. In simple, emotion-light (but not emotionless) language, Haddon conveys the difficulties a person on the autistic spectrum has in making sense of an emotion-laden, figurative world. Rules help, but interaction is difficult when they are altered by context, and ‘people do a lot of talking without saying words’. The nuances of body language are lost on him. Yet, when Christopher finds a neighbour’s dog murdered, he has the courage and moral resolve to set out to expose the murderer.

The book has won many prizes, including the Whitbread Book of the Year. It’s shelved as children’s fiction, but I think it will appeal to old and young, Asperger’s and neurotypical, crime fans or not. Because it does what great fiction does – entertains, thrills, excites, provokes thought and incites learning which adjusts our perceptions of complex and ‘difficult’ subjects in a positive way.

Buy The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, by Mark Haddon

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